Thursday, September 15, 2016

When the Government Becomes God

The concept of government as God is nothing new.  In olden times Pharaohs and Caesars declared themselves to be gods.  They were despots. In more modern times, the philosophy of George Hegel and later Karl Marx developed into a society where the government replaced gods and religion.  In progressive thought in the United States, the same belief that the state replaces God as the supreme power is evident.  These entities see themselves as the source of freedom, rights, and provision. In due time, these entities deem religion to be an enemy.  We are not talking about theocracy, a boogieman that is trotted out to justify the expansion of power.  We are talking about totalitarianism. Things to consider as we look to the Presidential Election 2016.

Errantly  ascribed to Thomas Jefferson, there is a saying. "A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take everything you have."  When government sees itself as divine it naturally claims the rights to give benefits as if they were God's graces.  Whereas God gives of Himself, government must take from others and redistribute them like benefices to others.  The great government god looks kindly on certain peoples.  The great government god looks poorly on others.  To succeed in this, the great government god must appropriate for itself the ability to bestow rights and privileges.

Human rights are no longer inalienable.  The bestowal becomes a matter of political expediency.  Some great government gods seize this control all at once as in the French and Russian Revolutions.  Some take a more long range tactic; convincing the governed to surrender their God given rights one at a time.  In exchange they might promise fiscal security or protection from enemies ,which necessitates the making of and sustaining of enemies and antagonistic relationships. They might promise free this or that, even though what is offered is not actually free, the charge is merely given to someone else.  To achieve this, the great government god must have us at each others throats; we must hate each other before we become okay with seizing each others property and rights.

The great government god chooses winners and losers.  Oftentimes, because the great government god's needs and desires fluctuate,  today's winners become tomorrow's losers and today's losers become tomorrow's winners.  Winners and losers are subject to erratic and sometimes capricious laws which can and will strip every human right away from some groups, even going as far as to deny humanity at all to some groups.  This gives the great government god the ability to do away with entire groups through genocides, pogroms, and persecutions.

The great government god is a jealous god.  It reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship to a state church to the destruction of alternative religions altogether.  It will pay lip service to other religions for as long as is deemed necessary.  The lip service will dwindle as God and religion are pushed further and further from the public life and are regulated to historical nostalgia.  Those who insist on sticking to religion are at first marginalized, then persecuted, and then eliminated.  Whether it be the Colosseum or concentration camps and gulags, whether it be by firing squads or guillotine, the great government god will awash itself in the blood of dissenters.

When the great government god has dealt with such dissenters, then the curtain is pulled back and the totalitarian demon is revealed and it is too late to turn back without the complete collapse of the nation.  With opposing gods contained, other freedoms become easy to eliminate.  The useful idiots who helped in the elimination of the great government god's enemies become the great government god's next victims.  Revolutions eat their own children.  As the saying goes, "The first rule of assassination is to kill the assassins."  

The road to tyranny and totalitarianism is traveled one freedom surrendering step at a time.  The more government grows the more godlike it wants to be.  Be aware, though, of the idols you worship. 

For me, I will stick to the God I already worship.  My God doesn't seek my destruction, nor does He will the destruction of others.  My God loves me and wills I love Him and all others.  My God gives us a free will and the freedom to love, to choose positively the good of others.  My God doesn't want me to have my assets seized, but to give willingly to those in need.  My God doesn't want my enslavement, but my freedom.  My God doesn't want me to look at those around me as enemies, but as my brothers and sisters.  My God sent His Son to save me.  I could on and on...but the upshot is my God, the Triune God, doesn't need a jack boot at my throat.  He loves and desires to be loved; He gives out of His love.  I, for one, will not surrender my rights for trinkets and empty promises.  I will not allow any man or government to spur me to hatred of my fellow human beings.  Even it means sharing in the fate of a Thomas More, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Miguel Pro, or Maximilian Kolbe...I would sooner die for the truth than live as a subject of the great government god.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Of Concupicence

This is a variation of my homily this morning.  NOt exact wording as I do not write down my homilies.

The Gospel reading today starts with an assurance of Jesus to not be afraid because God wills to extend to us the Kingdom.  Jesus often assures us that the Father is disposed to our good and salvation.  The Father wants what is good for us.  He extends it to us.  Indeed, we are told in the Last Judgement sequence from Matthew that heaven was prepared for us...we were created with heaven in mind.  Sounds great!!  Notice something though: The Father wants it for us but does not force it upon us.  We must choose it.  How do we do that?

The rest of the Gospel for today answers this.  Jesus starts by telling us that where our heart is, there our treasure will be.  So what do we treasure?  The things of God or the things of this world?  It is awful hard to not treasure the things of this world isn't it?  Jesus uses the parable of the two types of servants.  One good and one bad.  Where is the difference?

To explain that we need to take something into mind: concupiscence.  When we are baptized, we have the mark of original sin taken and are filled with God's sanctifying grace.  Whether that grace stays put is up to our willingness to fight the predisposition we have to sin.  That is what concupiscence is: a disposition towards sin.  We fight this disposition through the cultivation of the virtues.  Each virtue is a discipline by which we rein in concupiscence and the sin it leads to.  Some of these virtues, such as the Cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, justice, and temperance, we can cultivate by our own repeated choice to adhere to the disciplines they require.  The one who cultivates virtue is the servant who is wise and does as he should.  So delighted is the master upon his return at his virtuous servant that the master waits on them!

However, if we are not cultivating virtue, we are cultivating vice.  Concupiscence always leads to vice...to sin.  Where virtue is a discipline, vice is a lack of discipline.  Vice is a caving in of the free human will to sinfulness which estranges us from God.  The bad servant, we see, lacks discipline and engages in various vices (anger, drunkenness) and is caught off guard by the master. Recall, St. Peter ask if the parable is meant for everyone or just for them.  It would seem that Jesus targets those who serve Him, especially in the role of shepherding.  As those called by virtue of our vocation of priesthood and marriage, we are given flocks to tend.  We either lift those flocks to God or drive them away from God.  Jesus talks of beatings for those who fail to cultivate virtue.  Why?  Others suffer the consequences.  When we cultivate vice, we encourage the same of those placed in our care.  It is human nature for a person to want others to worship the god they worship.  Great if the god be God.  Deadly if it isn't. Where our heart is, we encourage to have their hearts as well.    Hence we who share in the tending of the flock as pastors, spouses, and parents must be certain that we encourage virtue by living virtue.

However some of the virtues, the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, need God's grace to grow.  We cannot fully love, hope, or have faith without God's initial action or ongoing grace for them to grow.  It is one the primary reasons we have sacraments in the Church; the theological virtues need to be nourished by God Himself.  I want to focus on the two we can receive over and over again.  First, we must be truthful and admit we fall to concupiscence.  Sometimes that fall is so thorough that it severs the relationship we have with God.  We call this mortal sin.  Until that break is addressed in Confession, we are cut off from the source to cultivate the theological virtues.  A breakdown in the theological virtues will lead to a breakdown in the cardinal virtues.  Our cultivation of vice must be addressed. Otherwise the cultivation of virtue will be difficult, if not impossible, until we have sacramentally dealt with our fall to concupiscence and sin.

By the same token, what we come here to do at Mass is to be given the divine help we need to do battle with concupiscence day after day.  In the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are given what we need to grow in virtuous discipline and holiness.  Hence, if we are in a state of mortal sin, we may come up, but we will not receive the grace given until we have sought God's merciful grace in Confession.  Also, if we do not believe what is given here IS the Body and Blood of Christ, again we will not receive the grace we need until belief (faith) is addressed.  Those of us who share in the shepherding role of Christ desperately need this grace to do effectively the task to which Christ calls us...we cannot be the good servant without virtue and without grace.

Whether we are the good servant or the bad servant...the virtuous shepherd who leads our flocks to God or the vice filled wolf who leads our flocks to destruction...the person of virtue or the person of vice...is up to us.  Today's Gospel tells us what lies in store for both.  To be the good servant is to cultivate the virtues, especially those that address the vices that concupiscence tempts us towards.  Behind every temptation and vice is the father of lies and the ultimate bad servant...the devil himself.  Let us be wary. Virtue or vice are built choice by choice.  Let us use the grace given us this day to be the good servant, the men and women of virtue we were created to be.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Embracing the Culture of Death and the Suicide of a Nation

There has never been a time in history where human life has been fully protected and respected.  Humanity has always seemed to be at odds with its own survival. Our history is tarnished with wars, genocides, slavery, repression, abortion, and other wanton disregard and hostility towards human life. Governments and societies have built their foundations on the blood and suffering of others.  This is human history.  What scares me is that the majority knew this was wrong.  Now the majority  embraces, participates, and turns a blind eye towards this unrelenting violence.  This country is on a precipice of its own destruction.

The particularly nasty strain of this culture of death in our country finds itself in a 'science' called eugenics.  Eugenics is a belief that the human race can be cleansed of its weaker elements by the widespread elimination of inferior elements of humanity.  It is elitist thought at its most deadly.  Within the USA, it has taken form of the acceptance of artificial birth control,  any and all sexual acts in which human reproduction is impossible, and abortion.  It has taken the form of a full assault on marriage and family life, again rendering such life as sterile.  It has taken the form of telling women that motherhood is beneath them and their dignity; that marriage and motherhood are chains of slavery that keep them from their full utilitarian possibility.  It has taken the form of teaching men to stay boys, to engage in sexual activity without responsibility, to objectify women as little more than a collection of body parts to please them, to see marriage and fatherhood as impediments to their fun and happiness. For so many, new human life is a virus to be eradicated.  The thinning of the herd is seen as a positive.

All of this centers on a narcissism run mad. For this death culture to accelerate, an out of control selfishness must take place.  Most assuredly, one must deaden one's soul to accommodate the death and destruction of others. I can't love my neighbor and seek his or her destruction at the same time.  To embrace the culture of death necessitates the dehumanizing of my neighbor.  If I can dehumanize the child in the womb, then killing it becomes possible.  If I can dehumanize the pretty face on the porn page, I can be okay with human trafficking, pornography, and promiscuity.  If I can dehumanize the person that isn't like me, then I can persecute them, commit horrific crimes and genocides against them, I can strip them of their rights, can ignore their dignity, and I can do whatever I wish to them without remorse.  I can see their deaths and suffering as mere entertainment, a renewal of the ancient Colosseum, where death and mayhem are there for my pleasure.  By the same token, human sexuality is reduced to a hobby, a sport, and a matter of pleasure alone.  

In no other fashion is this so crystallized as in abortion.  The acceptance of abortion  is a dehumanizing of a person based on chronology.  In the past we have dehumanized groups based on ethnic, racial, or religious grounds. Pogroms and genocides have been legion.  It was always against groups that had a voice and could fight back.  This time, we have the ultimate victim.  This person has voice or their own, no ability to fight back, nor any understanding of the reason for which they are being destroyed.  Their sin is conception, a action that they could not perform themselves. Their sin is not being wanted, as if their humanity was contingent upon another wanting their existence.   Their destruction is hidden behind euphemisms and semantics.  Their deaths necessary to preserve sex without responsibility or consequence.  Were this not vile enough, we harvest their body parts for medical and scientific tests.  Nowhere is the culture of death so finely distilled as it is in abortion.  That we see it as permissible to rip children apart in the womb, to inject them with poison, to suction out their brains is the stuff of bad horror films and war crime atrocities.  It is not the stuff of a civilized society.

One need not be religious to refute such barbarism.  Scientifically, what resides in the womb is human.  It has human DNA.  It is genetically human. It is not potential life, it is life.  Essentially it is the death penalty for the innocent.  Nowhere in American jurisprudence do we, as a matter of law, routinely inflict death on the innocent, save abortion. That we would support those who make their living at this is criminal.  That politicians would push this so as to get votes is criminal.  The death of 50+ million will hang against our country like a indictment for all of history to see. 

However for those who do say they are Catholic, to support the barbaric nature of abortion is opposed in its entirety to our catholic faith.  Nowhere is Catholic moral teaching is the death of the innocent considered a moral good.  No where in Catholic moral teaching is the dehumanizing of a subset of humanity seen as a moral good.  As we believe God is the author of life, we simply cannot wantonly destroy it because it isn't wanted.  This is to fly in the face of the Creator Himself.  Do we think we actually can stand in His presence and justify such a thing? 

Many will hide behind the canard that "I am personally opposed but..." It what other circumstance of life matters is this permissible? We hide behind terms like 'legal' to justify inaction.  God is not so easily fooled. Legal and moral are not synonyms.  "but, Lord, it was legal..." will not save one from judgement.

However, if we view the sexual act as essentially selfish in nature, the consequences of human sexuality will be seen through the same selfish lens. If we find it to fair game to dehumanize for any end, we will sink deeper and deeper into our own demise.  One cannot embrace God and be blithe about the death or suffering of another. To embrace the culture of death is to toss this civilization onto the dung heap of history. As family life and human sexuality continue to be diminished, it will result is our own death as a culture and nation.  That death will be at our own hands.

If we wish to turn this around, we will have to do more than merely protest.  We will have to do what was done...namely, change enough human hearts about the goodness of life, to see its inherent value, dignity, and integrity that is owed each human life.  Truth and charity must both be in play.  The clock is ticking. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Seeds of Catholic Masculinity: Camp Maccabee 2016

Lost in all of the drama of what happened in my parish over the last few weeks, was the summer camp for teen men that I run, Camp Maccabee.  We had two camps: the first was with 11 campers and 12 staff, the second with 17 campers and 15 staff.  I think that it might be a better insight to what we do in this camp by giving a per partum of the week.  This year we focused on the cardinal and theological virtues.

Sunday:  The campers and half the staff arrived at St Robert Bellarmine  Church in St. Robert.  The other half of the staff is at the location for the first night's activities, getting things set for the evening's events.  At St. Robert, the campers unpack, do a few icebreakers, are given a backpack complete with a Catholic Men's devotional Bible, Holy cards, rosary, notebook and pen for notes, and the book we were using (Boys to Men by Tim Gray and Curtis Martin) and repack for the overnight trip to the Farm.  The campers get to the farm and immediately have a homecooked meal (Lasagna made from scratch) and then are introduced to the Divine Office.  They pray Vespers as a group and then go down to the archery range for archery practice.

They then come up for what we affectionately call 'da rules' talk.  WE then ask them to remain in silence and prayer as we begin the opening ceremony.  One by one they are taken into the Sacred Heart garden  and given a camp t-shirt.  They change into the shirt and leave the shirt they were wearing in a trunk (to be washed and given back at the end of camp).  They head into the chapel for the 1st talk.  The first talk focuses on the concept of virtue and on the cardinal virtue of prudence.  I gave these talks.  During this talk , they were given a cord bracelet, knotted three times to represent the Evangelical Counsels of Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty and that has a St Benedict Medal attached.  They are told what the  various letters on the medal mean.  The talk is ended with Compline, then they are off to their tents.

Monday:  The campers awake and head to Morning Prayer and then Breakfast.  They then head  to the valley for the Warrior dash.  Every year we change up and add to the warrior dash.  Each of the obstacles are designed so as to make it difficult to do on one's own.  The guiding principles for the warrior dash are with navy Seal training; which means we make them act as a team and problem solve as a team.  This gives them the opportunity to concretely exercise the virtues we are talking about with them.  If a team fails to act as a team, we send them back to redo the obstacle.  The young men got it quickly and worked together.

After the warrior dash, they clean up on a rather lengthy slip and slide before lunch.  After lunch, they go back into the valley for the low ropes course.  Again, a premium is put on teamwork and problem solving.  Some of the course generates laughs, some generate frustration (especially the hula hoop exercise).  After they clean up, we have Mass in the chapel and then a dinner (hog roast this year).  After dinner the young men pray Vespers and have the second talk, this time given by a seminarian of our diocese, on the topic of the cardinal virtue of justice.  They are given some time for prayer and reflection/group time.  After this, they load up in the vans and head back to St Robert.  there it is time for showers and bed.

Tuesday:  The campers get up and head to church for morning prayer.  After this is a hearty breakfast.  They are told to pack up again, this time to head to a state park for a day of fly fishing and hiking.  By 11 AM the group is divided into two and one group heads to fly-fishing and the other hikes.  Lunch comes and the groups then do the event they didn't do earlier.  Some trout are caught.  The campers then head off to Mass.  After Mass is dinner.  in all this is built in time for doing whatever: talking, various yard games, and a kickball game.   After dinner the campers head up to pray Vespers,  hear the 3rd talk, this time given by a college student from Missouri S & T on the cardinal virtue of fortitude.  After this, they have some time for silence and small groups.  They pray Compline and head to the tents.

Wednesday: The campers are up and at it at 7.  First Morning Prayer, then breakfast, then packing up camp in short order so that we can be on the Current River by 10 AM for the float trip. By float trip, I mean 'dunking people' trip.  I am pleased to report it took 4 of the bigger guys to take this old man down.  After the float, we head back to St Robert for the rest of the camp.  They get back and clean up.  Mass starts soon.  The second week, we were honored to have Bishop Edward Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau to lead us in Mass. After Mass and dinner, the campers head to the church for the next talk, given by the permanent deacon of the parish, Rick Vise, on the cardinal virtue of temperance.  After time for prayer and small groups, we start up Eucharistic exposition and  Adoration  with confessors available for the campers and staff.  After Benediction, the kids head to gym for some free time.  Lights out at 11.

Thursday:  Campers are up a little later.  The scheduled varied between the weeks for events beyond our control.  The gist is this: Morning Prayer, Breakfast, Paintball, Talk 5 given one week by our transitional deacon, Paul Clark, one week and given by Fr. Joseph Minuth OP the second week. They open up the talks on the theological virtues and specifically on Faith.  The campers are given some down time and then it is off to Mass.  The second week we had the honor of our diocesan bishop, Bishop John Gaydos having the mass for us. (two bishops in one week!)  Dinner again (these guys eat like locusts by the way).  They are then off to church for Vespers.  After Vespers is Talk 6 on the theological virtue of Hope, given by FR David Veit, the assistant director.  After this is Stations of the Cross and Compline.  The guys then head back for what has become a staple of the camp: American Gladiator.  basically the gym is set up like an obstacle course and the campers (and eventually staff) have to negotiate the course without getting hit with a ball. They all have fun.  After this, they head to bed.

Friday: Campers get up and head to Mass in the Church.  They come back for breakfast and head right back to the Church for Morning Prayer and the final talk on the Cardinal Virtue of Love.  Week 1, Fr Geoff Brook gave the talk, week 2, I did.  After the final time for silence and small group, they head back for pack up and clean up.  We end with a closing ceremony in which we give them a necklace with the Miraculous Medal and St Michael Medal attached to it.  They are given their old shirts with a note that like the shirts, they are the same person as came to the camp, but like the shirts are not completely the same (we wash the shirts right away) because of what has happened.  WE point out that what happens after this is up to them.  With that we end the camp and head out for lunch!

Our goal is simple: teach them how to play, pray, and live as catholic men of virtue.  WE switch out the books every year.  But we want people to see what it is we are doing.No secrets here.  No, we want you to understand what we are doing for two reasons: First, if you have a teenage son, we would like you to consider sending him next year.  This year we had campers from Missouri and Oklahoma.  If you belong to the following dioceses: Jefferson City, Springfield Cape Girardeau, Tulsa, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, and St. Louis,  it is within several hours driving distance. St. Robert is right on I-44.  We have inquiries from Dallas.  The nearest airport would be Springfield Missouri.  We would have to work out logistics, but we would make it work.  If you do not have a son or grandson but would like to help us with this ministry as it grows, we ask to pray about donating to the camp.  We try to keep the out of pocket to the camper to $150 and offer scholarships if a camper cannot pay.  We believe that no young man who wants a deeper experience in his faith should be denied because of money.  Donations can be given through our website www.campmaccabee.com.

The dates for next year are July 16-21 and July 23-28.  Applications for those going into High School (all four years) in academic year 2017-2018 will go online after Christmas. Questions about the camp can be emailed to me at frrwp65@gmail.com.  This camp is in compliance with Virtus/Protecting God's Children and is an entity within the Diocese of Jefferson City.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Necessity of Forgiveness

For years, I have been preaching from the pulpit that forgiveness is the ultimate act of self-preservation.  I have spoken at length for the need to forgive and seek forgiveness.  I have spoken at length on the demand that Jesus has that we forgive fully.  I have preached at length about the petition form the the Our Father, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."  Over the years, I have had to forgive horrible things done to me.  However, it wasn't until the events of last week that so much of this hit home.

For those following this blog, you know that my parish church was desecrated.  It turned out to be a recently registered parishioner who did the desecration.  The timing of the desecration seemed to be the worst possible time: I found out hours before the opening of second session of Camp Maccabee, a camp for young men I run during the end of July.  I was told by the bishop to stay at the camp and to not go home.  These are all pertinent details, because it set up the classroom in which I would personally learn in greater depth the nature and necessity of forgiveness.

Under the best of circumstances, the camp I run is a pressure cooker.  As director, the days are long and very busy.  As director, I am in charge of food, finance, schedule, and whatever discipline comes my way.  I joke that I just go into triage mode for two weeks.  Week one went splendidly.  We had added an extra day to the camp and new venues.  It was very hot and humid and one of the venues was caught off guard.  However, the staff and campers were great.  I was gearing up for the second session.  I was tired but ready to go for an even bigger group of campers and staff.  Then a phone call from the county sheriff from home which began "Father, how much bad news can you take at one time?" sent me into a tailspin.  I was to give 2 talks that night.  I was torn between leaving and staying; a decision ultimately made by the bishop.  Not being home did not make things go away.  So now I had a packed schedule and a crisis away from the camp.

For 48 hours I struggled.  I was angry.  I was very angry and could not show that anger lest the campers and staff think that anger was directed towards them.  I told the staff right away and the campers about 30 some hours later.   I was doing a poor job of suppressing the anger.  It was then it occurred to me just how much time and energy anger drains.  My parish and camp needed me to be clear headed; that wasn't happening as long as I harbored anger.  I could either give up the camp or the anger.  That was the choice.  I chose to give up the anger, but it wouldn't be so easy.  It rained  a lot, which meant tweaking the schedule over and over again.  The power to the walk-in cooler was switched off and we ended up losing a lot of food.  Thankfully the staff and campers were as good as gold.  On the parish front, real good leadership took the pressure off of me.  The diocese had been giving me good advice and guidance. These were important to recognize, because anger blinds us to the good.

Anger is a demanding lover.  It wants all your time and all your energy.  It feeds from them and grows as it is fed.  It is a cancer that blinds towards any solutions. I knew I had to quit feeding the anger.  Though I had made many posts exhorting my parishioners to forgive, I had not reached that place yet.  I wasn't mad at the woman who had desecrated the church.  I wasn't mad at God.  I had this anger looking for a home...wandering like demon in the desert.  I wanted it no longer.  I understood as I never had before just much anger holds us back and keeps us disconnected from reality. It took a change of focus for me.  It became a matter of where my focus was: on good or evil...on the blessings that were surrounding me or the bitterness that nipped at my heart.  I actively chose to focus on the good.  It didn't take much: all around me in the parish, diocese, and camp were acting admirably.  I could see not just God's blessings, but the way out as well.  With the focus changed, my heart healed and the focus could be about a restoration...not a desecration.

What is true for what happened to me is true for all.  We all have horrible things happen to us.  Sometimes we were the intended victim, sometimes we are collateral damage.  The quickness to healing is directly proportional to our willingness to heroically forgive.  Nowhere are we asked to condone the violence done to us, only to no longer hold it against the attacker.  As long as we hold it against the attacker, then the attacker has taken up residence in our heads rent free.  Worse yet, inflicting revenge for the attack only serves to keep the cycle of hurt and alive and growing.  Vengeance feeds the beast of anger.   Forgiveness slays this beast and frees us from the slavery of feeding him.  Forgiveness frees us to once again love.  Love is the ultimate defiance to evil.

We live in a world of rage.  Our politics in this country are little more than distilled rage.  We are told who to hate, who to show no mercy, who to blame for our own shortcomings in life.  Anger loves victimhood.  Anger feeds on the perpetually offended.  Anger gorges on the vengeful.  It dominates the lives of those who feed it.  We can not be free and slaves at the same time.  Forgiveness is indeed necessary to our freedom as followers of Jesus Christ.  Forgiveness is a natural byproduct of the theological virtue of love.  Hence, the multiple teachings of Christ on the necessity to forgive so as to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  If we want to move into the future as free men and women, we must forgive all who have harmed us and seek forgiveness for those we have harmed.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Darkness is Lifted

For those who read my prior blog post on my parish's long Good Friday, this is the follow up.  To those who haven't, I suggest reading it first.

This morning at 8 AM, a darkness lifted from my parish.  The darkness descended without warning a week ago today when our parish church was desecrated.  This morning, as our bishop, Bishop John Gaydos came to wield his apostolic authority to drive from our parish church the intense darkness, it was as if the sun was breaking over the horizon to let us know that the Light of Christ conquers the darkest sorrow the devil can inflict.  This morning was the bold proclamation that Christ conquers...Christ wins...Christ is victorious!

Bishop Gaydos did not flinch from calling what happened to us evil, nor did he flinch is reminding us that Christ conquers.  He powerfully reminded us to allow the theological virtue of hope to carry us beyond this moment and allow the new life breathed back into this parish to powerfully bear fruit.  As the various furnishings of the church, the statues, confessionals, books, ciborium, and altar were blest, it was as if someone were flipping on one light switch after another; until the darkness of the desecration was completely driven out from our church.  In the place of such a pervasive darkness, a powerful light now shown.

As we concluded the morning with a Eucharistic Procession around the exterior and interior of the Church as the people powerfully sung, "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent", ending with Benediction, it felt as if we had reclaimed completely what was snatched from us one week before.  Christ restored completely what Satan had taken from us.

As a pastor, we all wish that the lesson learned from such tragedies inform us of how to live the Catholic life.  We pray that where anger and wrath were infused, the healing balm of forgiveness and mercy may heal.  We pray that fear give way to hope.  We pray that we do not lose our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.  My parishioners have responded beyond any hopes that I would have expected.  Not one asked what we were going to do to the woman who visited this tragedy upon us.  Not one.  Instead I had multiple request as to how we might help her.  This is the way of Christ.  No vengeance.  No fear.  No overreaction.  Just mercy and forgiveness.  No one demanded we lock our church up, restricting its use as a sanctuary of prayer.  Not one.  No, we wanted our house of prayer back and accessible as it was before!

It was remarked by more than a few, that there was a palatable difference between the beginning and end of the ceremonies today.  Each remarked how without the Blessed Sacrament in the church, it felt empty.  With the Blessed Sacrament back in it again, it was like a life being breathed back into a lifeless corpse. That makes sense doesn't it?  If The Blessed Sacrament is what we say it is (more specifically what Jesus Himself says it is), then Christ has mounted His throne again at St Clement and we have great joy.

Today reminded my people and myself that Christ heals the brokenhearted. But as in all healings in the Gospels, the story doesn't end with the healing.  No, the rest of the story is finished out with what the person does after the healing.  It is here that the rest of the book is written.  How is it we will make good use of this healing to thrive as a parish who lives fully the Mission of Jesus Christ and His Church?  How do we allow the new life we were given to influence powerfully the parish and community around us?  Seeing as how my parishioners are powerfully gravitating towards mercy, I would say we look to respond well and powerfully to what lies next at St Clement Parish!      


Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Long Good Friday

My Church sits dormant.  It is lifeless.  No sacraments can be celebrated in her right now.  Late Saturday night, she was desecrated.  Her confessional, baptismal font, holy water font, presider's chair, lectern, altar, and tabernacle were smeared with human feces.  The Holy Oils were emptied into the carpet.  Her books used for Mass destroyed.  Her vestments soiled with wine.  Worst of all, the Blessed Sacrament within the tabernacle desecrated with human feces.  My church sits silent.  The fecal matter has been washed away.  The vestments cleaned.  The books replaced.  Like a dead body cleaned for burial, she lies dormant.  The hearts of my parishioners and my own heart hang heavy.  The violation of our Church was a violation of our parish.  It was a violation of our faith.

When I found out about the violation of my parish, I was away.  We were 3 hours away from beginning the second session of the summer camp I run.  3 hours.  My mind raced.  It was too late for me to switch out responsibilities or to cancel. The attack was perfectly timed.  As I was tormented about where to be, the diocese made the decision for me and told me to stay where I was.  At that time I did not know that my church was not allowed to be the place of celebration of the sacraments until the evil that had occurred had been exorcised and made reparation for.  This takes a bishop.  In place of being there, there were flurries of phone calls with parish staff, with law enforcement, with diocesan personnel, and with the media.  It unfolded like a slow moving nightmare. It seemed for 48 hours like every phone call added more hellish details. 

In a conversation with my principal, we had both come independently to the same conclusion: Our parish is in a long Good Friday.  We mourn as did the Blessed Mother and the disciples.  We process the emotions that accompany this desecration. 

For me, the first 48 hours was all about anger.  It was a displaced anger.  I wasn't mad at the woman who had done the damage.  I saw the picture of a lost soul in need of mercy.  It is dangerous and perhaps even sinful to speculate to her motivation.  That is for the civil authorities to discern. I knew that if we as a parish was to stay true to our faith, that we must fight through the anger and tears and find mercy.  My public statements reflected this.  My internal struggles, though, were much more profound.  Why?

Like my parishioners, I felt deeply violated.  The confessional from which I have exercised my priestly ministry of the forgiveness of sins many thousands times over was desecrated.  The baptismal font from which I had baptized 100's over my 7 years as pastor had been desecrated.  The pulpit from which I had preached and instructed on the faith for so many cumulative hours had been desecrated.  The altar from which I had said thousands of masses, from which I had exercised my priestly ministry had been desecrated.  The church in which I had celebrated every major event in my parish; her funerals, weddings, 1st Communions, and ordination..the true parish center of my parish had been willfully desecrated.  The Blessed Sacrament, for which I have tirelessly made present by the grace of God, of whom I have preached for almost 2 decades had been desecrated.  I felt as if I had been gutted.  This violation had engendered deep anger at the situation.  That anger had no where to go.

That is always dangerous.  Displaced anger is a demon looking for a home.  It is our human nature to want to find someone and somewhere to make the focus of the anger.  I already knew that it couldn't be the woman or God.  I knew some in the parish were angry with me, with others, and with the woman.  All were harmful places to deposit the anger as it creates the strife and division that was the desired product of the demonic nature of this attack.  That's when it occurred to me about this being a Good Friday.  It was time for me to take my cues from the that 1st Good Friday.

What was the attitude of Christ from the Cross as His Body was being desecrated and tortured?  What was His attitude as His Blood was poured out and mingled with the earth into which it fell?  "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."  As I reflected on those words from the Cross of Christ, I knew that not only was this to be the attitude I was to have, but the attitude I would need to press upon my parish family.  In His proclamation from the Cross, Jesus does not condone the evil visited upon Him, rather He asked that the Father not hold those responsible for this against them...for no one would be able to withstand such a judgement. Our attitude as a parish would have to be the same.  Jesus did not allow the evil that was visited upon Him to change Him for the worse.  Neither could we.  This, though, is not going to be easy.  It will be necessary.

When I had the first conversation with my bishop, he very clearly told me to not allow this event to change me or my parish for the worse.  He said this in response to me suggesting that maybe we needed to start locking up the church building for the first time in its existence.  In the past several years, our parish had come along way.  We are just starting to embark on a 3-5 year plan in which the major focus is re-catechesis, helping parents and youth, and evangelization.  In so many ways, we had expunged so much of the devil and his natural charism of division out of our parish.  Saturday night he roared back with a vengeance.  But no more that Satan was able to defeat Jesus at Calvary, will he be able to defeat us unless we allow him.  Our God is more powerful than he.  If our parish had been found worthy to suffer violence for the name of Jesus, then so be it.  For we know, the story doesn't end in the tomb on Good Friday.  Nor does our story end on this long Good Friday either.

Not often does a parish know the hour of its resurrection.  We do.  8 AM on Saturday, our bishop will be with us and exorcise the evil visited upon our Church and to make reparation for that desecration.  We will reclaim what was defiled.  We will, by the grace of God, watch the Holy Spirit breath new life into the dormant and lifeless church building.  We will have Eucharistic Adoration afterwards, as must happen where the Blessed Sacrament has been defiled.  When the time comes at 11 AM, we will punctuate our taking back of our Church building with a Eucharistic Procession which will encircle the outside and inside of the building. After our long Good Friday, we will experience our Easter.

I end with this:  We also know that Easter wasn't the end of the story. The Church, filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, was to engage in the mission of Jesus Christ.  By the same token, we are not purging a building for the sake of of merely having a place to celebrate sacraments. These avenues of grace have a purpose: to give us the means necessary to get about the business of the Kingdom.  Archbishop Sample of Portland Oregon reminded his flock a few weeks ago that the Church exists for the salvation of souls.  Given our Church back this Saturday, perhaps we stand our ground to Satan and double down on our commitment to the mission of the Church.   We will be given that chance.  So many churches attacked as of late, especially in Iraq and Syria, will have to spend much more time in their own Good Fridays.  Let us honor them and honor the mission of Jesus Christ Himself, and use this tragedy to  give stronger and bolder witness to Jesus Christ and the power of His mercy and forgiveness!